Carve up Colorado on two wheels

Photo: Ken Bingenheimer

Photo: Ken Bingenheimer

A motorcyclist’s guide to cruising the state

By Steve Graham

Ken Bingenheimer lives in south Denver, but Gunnison is home base for many of his favorite motorcycle rides around Colorado. 

“It doesn’t matter which direction you go, you are going to good stuff in any direction,” he said. 

Bingenheimer has been documenting his three decades of Centennial State cruising on his comprehensive motorcyclecolorado.com blog. The site includes route information, as well as motorcycle-friendly hotels, campgrounds, rental outfits, dealers, mechanics and more.

“There’s nowhere better to ride than Colorado,” he said, adding that the mountains and canyons make for great riding and beautiful views, but he also enjoys exploring Colorado’s small towns. 

“What can be better than taking a terrific ride over some high mountain passes and then stopping for the night in a rustic mountain town with architecture from the 19th century and brew pubs and excellent food?” he said. “And tomorrow you can do it again over different roads and end up in a different town. And again the next day.”

So where to start? He enjoys some well-known rides, including the Peak to Peak Highway through Black Hawk and Nederland, and Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park.

However, he said three of the best rides in the state are little traveled, but well worth the trip to their starting point in Gunnison.

Colorado Highway 12 provides a scenic tour for viewing fall colors.  Photo: ©SNEHIT / AdobeStock.com

Colorado Highway 12 provides a scenic tour for viewing fall colors.
Photo: ©SNEHIT / AdobeStock.com

Gunnison to Hotchkiss Loop

Bingenheimer suggests three one-day loops out of Gunnison, starting by heading north on Colorado Highway 135 to Crested Butte. The 28-mile run is just a warm-up for one of the best-kept secrets in Colorado. Colorado Highway 12 is a seasonal, gravel road, but Bingenheimer said it shouldn’t scare off experienced riders. “It’s not paved but they put so much mag chloride on it that it’s basically like concrete,” he said. “A lot of people don’t like taking gravel roads, but it’s practically paved.”

He said the ride up to Kebler Pass is beautiful. Then drop back down to Colorado Highway 133 and head west to Hotchkiss. Stop and refuel on the way into tiny Paonia. 

From Hotchkiss, head due south on Colorado Highway 92 through the gorgeous Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Then it’s an easy riverside cruise on U.S. Highway 50 back to Gunnison. 

Gunnison to Buena Vista Loop

Another ride out of Gunnison includes another insider tip — a newly paved highway to one of the best views in the state. 

Like the first ride, head north on U.S. 135, but after 10 miles, turn onto CR 742 to ride up from Almont to Taylor Park Reservoir, known for some of the biggest trout in the lower 48. This area is also a base camp for bagging 14ers in the Collegiate Peaks, but it has typically been hard to access — until now. 

Bingenheimer travels the area enough to know that construction is underway, and CR 209 from Taylor Park up to the continental divide at Cottonwood Pass should be paved for the first time by late summer. 

The rest of the ride has long been paved, though seasonally closed. Drop down the east side of the Collegiates into Buena Vista, home of Eddyline Brewery’s Crank Yanker IPA. Just sayin’.

From Buena Vista, take U.S. Highway 285 down to Poncha Springs, then head west on U.S. Highway 50 over Monarch Pass and back to Gunnison. 

Gunnison to Del Norte Loop

The third Gunnison loop is all on larger roads, so you should be able to keep riding at top speed, although you’ll trade off some of the seclusion of the other rides.

Head east on U.S. 50 about eight miles, then head south on Colorado Highway 114. This follows part of the Old Spanish Trail through Cochetopa Canyon and over Cochetopa Pass on your way to Saguache and the San Luis Valley. From there, take U.S. 285 and Colorado Highway 112 south to Del Norte (where you’ll also find Three Barrel Brewing Company). 

Then follow the Rio Grande up U.S. Highway 160 and Colorado Highway 149 through Creede, home of Colorado’s last silver boom and the World’s Largest Fork. The highway then winds through Lake City and Powderhorn on the way back to Gunnison.

At this point, you’ve probably earned a High Stoke Scotch Ale (or any other beer) at High Alpine Brewing. At the bar, you might meet another biker and plan your next two-wheeled adventure. 

The East Portal near Blue Mesa Reservoir is a great place to ride.  Photo: NPS/Lisa Lynch

The East Portal near Blue Mesa Reservoir is a great place to ride.
Photo: NPS/Lisa Lynch

Another British Invasion rocks the Rockies

When you have been playing music together for 27 years, it’s almost hard not to play concerts — even when you are on a motorcycle tour halfway around the world.

Thunder is a British hard rock band that has been performing for nearly three decades, since their similar-sounding countrymen in Def Leppard and Whitesnake were originally packing arenas. 

The band came to Colorado this spring for a two-wheel tour with Todd Wyant and A Time To Ride, his motorcycle touring company. It wasn’t really a concert tour, but it still included a couple of gigs.

“We took them on what we now call the Thunder Tour,” Wyant said. 

The ride started on the Peak to Peak Highway with the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park as the destination. 

Wander around the expansive Stanley property and you never know what you’ll find. But instead of visiting haunted rooms or seeing ghosts, they found a concert hall and a piano. 

“A short time later a guitar showed up and the impromptu concert began,” Wyant said. “It was shut down after several songs by management but it was truly wonderful.” 

It wasn’t a total bust, though. Wyant said the management let the band play a short number on a century-old Steinway piano.

The next day, the tour cruised over Trail Ridge Road and through Rocky Mountain National Park. Past Grand Lake on Berthoud Pass, Thunder met its first Colorado snow.

The band also hit Frisco, Steamboat Springs, Vail, Leadville and Manitou Springs, with a ride up Pikes Peak to test that altitude acclimation.

After seeing the Royal Gorge, they ended up in Crested Butte for another impromptu concert. 

In Carbondale, the band got into some rockstar hijinks when they were pulled over for “blastin’ by a school bus.” Wyant said the cop let them off with a warning.

The rest of the tour included Independence Pass, Granby, Mount Evans and a closing night concert at the Hotel Boulderado.

The Colorado ride was also a warm-up for Thunder’s annual fundraising ride in the U.K. that assists Childline, a hotline and chat service for children and teens facing any kind of problem. Thunder has organized eight Childline Rocks benefits, and serves as the house band for the ride.

Steve Graham is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor who likes taking his two young boys biking, hiking and brewery-hopping in northern Colorado.